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Published: October 5th 2017
Because today is Raresh's birthday, we left as early as possible, just after 7am. Our crew for today was Raresh, Jude the Brit, Nathan the American, Nano from Argentina, Henri and his wife from Germany, and myself. Today I planned to stay with the group all the way. Silvia, Eduardo, and their group were supposed to leave with us at 7am but after waiting 10 or 15 minutes, Raresh was ready to go. We walked in semi-dark, using Raresh's headlamp, for a kilometer or two and stopped at first open bsr/cafe we found. After a not very long break, we were back on the Camino. The sun came up a ways before we reached the Monte de Gozo, about an hour and 4 kilometers later. Monte de Gozo is a very developed area, done I believe mostly for pilgrims. There is a neat monument on the top of the hill, and a very large albergue in several buildings going down. From the hill, using the map, you are supposed to be able to see the Santiago Cathedral, but I guess some trees decided to get in the way.
After some photos, we took an alternate route a lady at the
refreshment truck recommended because it had no uphill. Either lied or just meant for the first part. We entered Santiago de Compostella a long time before even seeing the Cathedral tower, and stopped for stamps and a refreshment. After walking over 3 kilometers and almost an hour, we passed through the arch and entered the plaza in front of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostella.
I'd done it. I'd completed the Camino Frances, The French Way, the Way of Saint James. I'd walked for 34 days, over 800 kilometers, someone told me it took one million steps. I'd done it walking every step of the way, with my fully loaded backpack. It was a real feeling of accomplishment, and I'd done it the whole way along side of a guy I'd never met before, from a country I knew little about and would probably never even pass through, and just because I'd asked at the Spanish Gate in Saint Jean Pied du Port of someone would take a photo of me. Besides Raresh, my vampire buddy, I'd walked with Kirsten from Denmark (who'd finish in 30 days like she said), Alex from The Netherlands and Livija from Lithuania, a
movie star from South Korea, Jude from Great Britain, Nano from Argentina, Nathan from the U.S., Silvia and Eduardo from Alicante in Spain, Henri and his wife from Germany, and many others.
After cheers, sighs of relief, hugs and pats on the back, we had to figure out what to do next. We needed to get our pilgrim's certificate, several of the group wanted to go to the cathedral for the pilgrim's mass at noon, we needed to eat lunch, and we had to find an albergue to stay at. When we went to the pilgrim's office to see about our certificate, we were told it would probably be 2 hours, and since it was already almost 11am, we left our backpacks there (for 2 euros) and headed towards the Cathedral. Without really thinking much about it, I followed along, got in line, and next thing I knew I was sitting in the Cathedral with the others waiting for mass. For those who don't know me, I am not very religious at all. I consider myself to be an agnostic. I believe in God, but thats about as far as it goes. On top of which, my sweet Spanish
wife (along with Raresh ) can attest to the fact that I am particularly adverse to entering Catholic churches. My wife was Catholic in her youth and still enjoys entering the ones we've seen on our numerous vacations, but gave up a long time ago asking if I wanted to look inside too. Raresh is not Catholic (I think) but has not only enjoyed looking inside a number of the numerous churches along our Camino and even attended services several times. I think he gave up on asking me if I wanted to join him a while ago. Anyways, I did attend, or sit and stand through, the mass. It was interesting, but difficult to sit and stand for so long, with tired muscles. If I had it to do over again, I would have waited outside at a cafe with a coffee or two. I won't comment on or criticize the mass, but was pretty neat when the... head priest introduced another older priest, telling us they today was his 100th birthday! Oh, I forgot to mention that today was also Henri's birthday.
When the service was over, I lost track of the others and still hadn't found
them 15 or 20 minutes later, so I found a cafe close to and on the way to the pilgrim's office, figuring they would have to pass by there sooner or later, and had a cafe con leche. The cafe had Wi-Fi, so I logged in and told our group where I was. Raresh soon answered back to meet in front of the Cathedral at 11:50. I finished my coffee and went back up to meet them. They arrived so late that I was already thinking about going back to the cafe so could use the Wi-Fi. Unlike the others, I didn't have European phone service or even a Spanish SIM card, so I had to rely on Wi-Fi to communicate. They finally showed up and let me know they'd already booked the albergue, which I found out later was 15 euros, the most we'd paid the whole time. I think the reason they'd picked that albergue is because it never closes, you get a pass card to come in whenever. Between the two birthdays, and celebrating competing the Camino, they planned on being out quite late. I wasn't planning on being out late. I had already bought train tickets
for tomorrow morning at 7:20am, and was looking forward to being off the Camino and back with my wife and family.
Our extended group (I call them motley crew 1) decided to have lunch at a restaurant near the cathedral that had been recommended. Everyone ordered the pilgrim's dinner. I had pasta soup as my first plate and fish as my second. The fish was very boney and didn't have much flavor, but the soup was very good, especially with bread soaked in it. After lunch we went back to the pilgrim's office to retrieve our backpacks and headed to the albergue. The Mondoalbergue was fairly old and small, but had a decent lounge, kitchen, and patio. When I got there, I found out that Raresh had gotten a single double bed for the two of us. I guess that was all that was available. We'd been buds for over 30 days, but I wasn't particularly excited about sharing a bed with him. Thankfully, the albergue lady came and asked us if it was okay to use two single upper bunks instead, so we quickly agreed. After depositing our gear, we walked down to the train station to pick
up the tickets we'd bought online. It was really quite easy. We found a ticket machine, selected Print Ticket, entered the Locator code from PDF file on the phone, and voila, out came our tickets. I was expecting it to be a lot more difficult.
Tickets in hand, we stopped by the albergue so I could replace my hearing aid batteries, then headed back to the pilgrim's office to wait in line for our certificates. You have to present your pilgrim's passport with at least two different stamps for each day starting in Sarria, and I think one a day if you started earlier, like we did. My credentials had 70 stamps, counting the one they give you at the office. They give you one certificate that simply says you completed the Camino of Santiago de Compostella, and for 3 euros you can get one that says how far you walked, starting where. I paid the extra, so I have both. By the time our group was finished it was almost 9pm, so we started looking for someplace to eat dinner and celebrate Raresh and Henri's birthday. At this point we were at least 8, and possibly could become
11, so the tapas bars were a bit too crowded for us. We finally found one with a waitress that said she'd make space for us, but it would take a while. After waiting about 20 minutes, she put some tables and chairs together and we sat down. This was a tapas bar that had a good variety of offerings. Several of us got up to check them out visually, including Henri, but when we got back to the table to discuss what we might want, Henri said it was all taken care of. Apparently, he had told our waitress to just start bringing s variety, along with a couple of bottles of wine. Many tapas later, and a few more bottles of wine and everyone was full and ready to move on. Henri had apparently paid for the whole thing!
By this time, it was after 11pm. I asked about the albergue and how late we could get in, and was told as late as we wanted, since they had pass cards to open the front door. I didn't have one, and it was getting late. I still had get my clothes that the albergue washed and dried for us, plus some sleep before 7:30am train, so when the group had settled into another bar and showed no signs of leaving, I found Nano and borrowed his pass card and headed to our albergue. I had no trouble getting in, but couldn't find our clean clothes. The night clerk came out, checked in back and told me they weren't dry yet. I told her we had to leave soon after 6am, so she called the manager, waking him up I assume, and told us the clothes would be ready in the morning and that I still needed to pay so I could get my passport back. That's when I found out the bed was 15 euros. Hoping everything would work out in the morning, I quietly went up to the room and got in bed. About the time I fell asleep, Raresh woke me up telling me the lady downstairs needed to see me. Apparently, she had wrong basket of clothes. Our basket was dry, so I pulled mine out, stuffed them in a plastic bag and went back to bed.
My Initial Thoughts On The Camino:
I am glad I did it, but probably will not do it again, unless to share the experience with my wife or daughter, or maybe a grandchild if I think I am still able. I met a number of men in their 70s that seemed to be doing just fine. In the beginning of the Camino, the scenery, culture, people and overall experience outweighed any physical discomforts or inconveniences of eating or sleeping in albergues. As the Camino progressed, those good things diminished to the point that getting to Santiago was as important as going there.
In retrospect, I think the Camino should be done in three ways.
First, you should walk it with a loved one, like your spouse or child or parent. This way, you can share the experience and have common memories. It also helps to have someone you trust to keep you going and to present different points of view about the things you see, hear, and do.
Secondly, you should walk alone so that you can think about your life, you past and future, and do some self-examination. What have you accomplished, what do wish you'd accomplished and still could. This will also show you just how much motivation and dedication to getting to your goal you actually have, and when you think you've reached your limit, there will always be someone on the Camino to give you the little push you need.
Lastly, you should walk the Camino with strangers, so you can share your culture, understand theirs, and maybe modify your beliefs and views. It also helps to have others to motivate you to continue, congratulate your daily accomplishments, and celebrate completing the Camino.
As I may have already said, for me, the Camino taught me to appreciate all that I have, including my wife, children, and grandchildren. I even learned to appreciate the little things like my computer, car, house, and a big backyard that always seems to need work.
I hope those of you that have followed this blog enjoyed it, and maybe even motivated some of you to do it too. Note that I said do, not try.
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